Meaningless Label: Jon Brion
Jon Brion just might be the last pop genius. He's well versed in the teachings of the Beatles, grew up during the heyday of Cheap Trick, and played for the late, great Jellyfish. His first solo album, Meaningless, has elements of all three bands; Lennon and McCartney's indelible hooks, Cheap Trick's crunch and Jellyfish's flair for the whimsical. It's one of the best pop rock records you'll hear this year.
"I Believe She's Lying," classic ode about fear of commitment co-written by longtime Brion collaborator Aimee Mann, has a lightning-quick, skittery drum beat that suggests, as crazy as it sounds, acoustic drum 'n bass. "Her Ghost," on the other hand, takes a page from Jellyfish and even Burt Bacharach, with gorgeous multi-layered vocals and an insanely catchy bridge. "Hook Line and Sinker" takes a page from the Wilco/Jayhawks book, while the title track is vintage Cheap Trick, a stellar piece of rock with just the right amount of both pop and bite. He also closes the album with a cover of Cheap Trick's "Voices," slowed to a crawl and sung in a near whisper that shows just how potent the original song really is.
Brion originally recorded Meaningless for Atlantic Records back in 1997, but Atlantic continuously pushed back its release because the album wasn't supposedly commercially viable enough to justify release. Eventually, like his buddy Aimee Mann did with her 1999 album Bachelor Number Two, he bought the album back from the label and released it himself. While the label weasel who shelved the record may have had a point about its commercial prospects, (remember, 1997 was The Year of Ska) the fact is that record labels used to kill to have albums like this in their catalogs, the kind that become cult classics and sell copies for decades to come. A big raspberry to Atlantic for being so shortsighted, and a huge thumbs-up to Jon Brion's Meaningless, guaranteed to be my Album of the Year.